There is a “distinctly unnerving” silence in the centre of the recently-liberated city of Raqqa, according to Sky’s Stuart Ramsay.
Our chief correspondent was the first British broadcast journalist to enter the Syrian city since Islamic State’s reign of terror was brought to an end.
In his latest report, Ramsay speaks to Syrian commanders who say there is a cordon around Raqqa while they deal with any new “problems” caused by the militants:
We had got used to Raqqa’s streets being devoid of all people bar the military, but after a drive into the centre and a few minutes filming aerial drone shots of the devastation inside this once thriving and modern city, with astonishment we noticed the soldiers had disappeared; we were alone.
It was distinctly unnerving.
The damage here is so enormous it shocks every time. It’s not that a huge number of buildings over 14 square miles have been damaged, rather it’s that every building has been destroyed.
That damage explains a military decision.
Most of the force has withdrawn from the centre, fearful of Islamic State fighters hiding in tunnels waiting to carry out suicide attacks.
Commanders say that Raqqa is encircled anyway and more importantly they won’t risk soldiers’ lives defending it – because there is simply nothing left.
:: Inside IS ‘prison of death’ in fallen Raqqa
In the past few days IS fighters have either been captured or have given themselves up.
We saw one boy, clearly terrified, being led away by armed men.
The military believe that they are getting hold of deserters or strays from more hardcore groups who are still beneath Raqqa absolutely determined to kill and to die.
Feeling exposed we looked to join a patrol and met senior Syrian Democratic Forces commander Kino Gabriel on the outskirts of the city.
We drove through the villages where his men are based. These were the first places freed on the edge of the city and the fighting had been relatively low so houses and businesses, while damaged, could be renovated.
The streets are slowly filling with people as they return, but there is a clear demarcation line. Suddenly you are in Raqqa and there is nobody.
:: IS is gone but Raqqa lies in ruins after hard-fought victory
“We can’t clear all the roads and check all the houses for bombs and mines, so we can’t let people back, but they are really desperate to return” he told me.
“Maybe in three months, but not before then,” he said as we drove in his pick-up, with two armed soldiers on the back.
It has taken a year to achieve this victory by the multi-ethnic and religious SDF.
He says the battle has been one of the hardest of the many battles his Christian brigade has been involved in.
The greatest threats posed by IS to his men were fighting in such a built up city, where trying to identify firing points and the position of the enemy is often impossible, and drones.
IS specialised in dropping bombs from them and had drone factories across the city.
In an ordinary house he showed me what would have been a proper drone factory.
Small plastic tubes that would have carried the explosives were strewn around the yard next to bags of fertiliser used to make the explosive.
Inside plastic sheets had been moulded into rotor blades and pictures of prototype drones were stuck to walls.
“We lost a lot of good men to these,” Kino said.
“These factories were in houses with bamboo over the external sections to cover their work from the skies. IS made sure the factories were placed where civilians were living,” he added.
If there is a danger from hidden IS fighters and sleeper cells, they pale into insignificance when it comes to booby trapped building and road side bombs.
Most of the city has yet to be cleared. The bodies of IS fighters lay in the streets where they died a few days ago.
Roads are extremely dangerous and getting lost is easy because a wrong turn could be fatal.
As we mulled over a map trying to head north and an armoured Humvee pulled up and asked what on earth we were doing in the area we had entered. The officer made it clear to Kino we needed to leave the area immediately.
Finally we made it to the centre of town, where over the past few days they have been celebrating victory. Now it is deserted, eerie and dead again.
Where IS’ media arm sent evil across the world and its leaders planned their military expansion there are only ruins.
They lost I said to Kino; “It was always so,” he replied.
Commanders say there is now a cordon around the city while they deal with any new “problems” caused by IS. The city is sealed off and every single one of its legitimate residents is outside.